The shake makers

The shake-makers can be found throughout the Sierras, generally a shiftless set who cannot bear the restraint and superintendence of manual labor in populated districts, preferring rather to lead a free and careless life in the mountain forests, working only when they feel so inclined or are pressed to it by want of food. Scenting out a Sugar pine as easily as a terrier does a rat, they visit every accessible district in the Sierras, and a pile of shakes is often the only visible sign that any human being resides in these mountain solitudes. They are often called, perhaps aptly, forest pirates; and as, from force of circumstances, they are compelled to prey entirely upon Government and State lands, they destroy considerable of our public sugar pine timber, especially as they fell about three times the number of trees that they make use of, often cutting down five or six before finding one suited to their purpose. Although this practice of making shakes is generally condemned, and is certainly illegal as carried on, it has become so established a custom that no one thinks of interfering, and as to lodging a complaint against a shake-maker, public opinion is against it; for, like the Irish, the American people hate an informer.

Biennial Report of the California State Board of Forestry for 1887-1888


4 thoughts on “The shake makers

    • Not sure anybody really knows, but I would guesstimate 40-50 years, from soon after the Gold Rush to the 1890s roughly. The only effort to stop it that I’m aware of came when the Forest Reserves (which later became the National Forests) began to be established, after 1891, which put a more definite halt to any type of timber cutting not conducted through a formal timber sale process, although enforcement was weak at the beginning just due to the sheer number of acres set aside. They couldn’t police it all, and there were bigger problems–massive illegal sheep grazing for one, which required military intervention to stop.

      Sugar pine is the tallest and most massive of any pine species in the world, with a columnar bole of low taper, free of branches for the first 50 to 100 feet, and in the white pine group, which together make it one of the most valuable timber trees known. The only species larger, in CA, are giant sequoia and coastal redwoods. If you saw the type of trees that were felled by these guys and the amount wasted, you would be sick.

    • Yeah, I suppose I would be sickened by such a sight. Along about 1,000 feet of creek bottom on my little farm there are many dozens of green ash killed by emerald ash borer. One might suggest it’s only evolution in progress – but this is the ugly side of evolution.

    • The EAB is one ferocious pest, that is for sure. This is totally off the top of my head, but when all is said and done, I think it will end up as the most destructive forest exotic of any kind in eastern North American forests, exceeding even the chestnut blight and dutch elm disease–primarily because it attacks a suite of species instead of just one, at least two of which (green and white) are ecologically very important, widespread and complementary in their niche requirements (green ash = wet, white= mesic/dry). In the case of white ash, economically important as well. In the vicinity of it’s N. American entry point (Detroit) you can hardly find an un-attacked mature tree; S. Michigan and N Ohio are fully decimated.

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